Technology June 30, 2012
THIS WEEK IN GREEN TECH: Zombie Satellites, Cyborg Water, Magnetic Oil

A few of the most interesting tech stories from this past week feature good green thinking: recycling, cleaning up, and conserving. But they also feature a hint of the strange - cyborg organs that will help humans drink less water, turning oil magnetic, and converting dead satellites into zombie satellites. Read on...

Cyborg Organs To Help You Drink Less


What would the world be like after a massive environmental disaster? Among the many outcomes, there would likely be a shortage of water: that's the thinking behind Japanese design studio Takram's Hydrolemic System concept. The system of electronic devices works like a new set of organs that makes the human body more capable of harvesting moisture from the air, meaning the average human would only need to drink 0.1 cups of water a day to survive.


The kit includes inserts that go in the nose to convert the air we breathe into water, with other inserts at the ends of our renal and digestive systems to keep water in our system, and a collar on the neck to prevent perspiration by turning our body heat into electricity. As futuristic as this sounds, let's hope we never, ever need to use this kind of technology.

Recycling The Satellites

Where do satellites go when they die? Well, a lot of them remain in orbit, cluttering up the atmosphere. A while back, a group of Swiss scientists started work on a "janitor satellite" that would clean up old satellites, but now the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is working on a different solution - taking apart disused satellites in orbit and using them to build low-cost "communications farms" in space.

The program, called Phoenix, is now moving into the guinea pig phase: DARPA is looking for a disused satellite that they can use to test the technology. If successful, the program would create a new network of low-cost communications to be used by soldiers. The program is "definitely ambitious, and some might call it crazy", according to Brian Weeden, a former officer with the U.S. Air Force Space Command. There are many technological and regulatory challenges, but it seems DARPA is serious: they just awarded a US$2.5 million contract for the Phoenix program to a California-based company.

Magnetically Attracting Oil Spills

Cutting-edge tech to clean up oil spills is being invented all the time, but most of the solutions that are developed rely on a mechanical gadget to pump the muck out of the water. Researchers at the University of Bristol are trying something else: using chemistry to make the oil magnetic, so that it can be pulled out of the water with magnets.

They've created an emulsifier that coats spilled oil and makes it respond to magnetism. Once the emulsifier is in place, the oil can be removed using a large magnetic field - since the water is not coated, it will remain behind while the oil is pulled out. The researchers hope similar technology could be used by doctors to apply treatments to a specific area of the body.

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